Bible and Mission                                                            

Christian Witness in a Postmodern World


Richard Bauckham

Baker Academic, 2003, 112 pp.

ISBN 9-780801-027710


Bauckham is Professor of New Testament Studies at the University of St. Andrews.  This work provides a biblical perspective on mission as it relates to the globalized, postmodern world.  The primary theme is the relationship between the “particular and the universal” in Scripture, how God selects particular individuals and locations to provide universal blessing.  It is dense with biblical theology of mission.  Particular application to postmodernism is approached in chapter 4.


The Great Commission in Matthew 28 “is just the apex of everything the Bible has to say about God and mission.”  (viii, Joe M. Kapolyo, Principal, All Nations Christian College) 


“The advance of the church throughout the world has suffered somewhat…in a lack of confidence in the propriety of leading others to Christ throughout the world.” (viii, Joe M. Kapolyo, Principal, All Nations Christian College) 


Islamic extremists see economic globalization and military dominance of the United States as the latest manifestation of Christian imperialism.  “But Islam also has traditionally had aspirations to universal dominance.”  (3)


A metanarrative or grand narrative “is an attempt to grasp the meaning and destiny of human history as a whole by telling a single story about it; to encompass, as it were, all the immense diversity of human stories in a single, overall story which integrates them into a single meaning.” (4)


The West has lived by the great myth of “progress,” an offspring of the Enlightenment.  The rational values of Western modernity were accepted as universal and propagation of these values by education, technology and imperialism, and the suppression of local cultures was considered progress. (5)


Some see global capitalism as the new imperialism. (5-6) 


“Postmodernism is reaction against, rejection of all, metannaratives, because as attempts to universalize one’s own values or culture they are necessarily authoritarian or oppressive.  Postmodernism exposes metanarratives as projects of power and domination.”  (6)


Many equate any Western imperialism with Christianity.  Is the Christian movement a “tidal wave of religious homogenization sweeping away all the diversity of the world?”  Is it a kind of ecclesiastical imperialism or globalization? Ninian Smart (The Phenomenon of Christianity), illustrated the remarkable cultural diversity of Christianity, demonstrating that it does not produce cultural uniformity. (8-9)


Bible and Mission is about how to read the Bible in a way that takes seriously its missionary direction, about how the Bible embodies a kind of movement from the particular to the universal, a project aimed at the kingdom of God.  (11)


The biblical narrative has three dimensions: the temporal (from creation to end times, from a particular past to a universal future), the geographical (from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth) and the social (a movement that is always being joined by others).  (13-15)


“God’s purpose begins with a singular choice: God singles out first Abraham, then Israel, then David.”  Each choice starts a trajectory.  “The trajectory that moves from Abraham to all the families of the earth is the trajectory of blessing.  The trajectory that moves from Israel to all the nations is the trajectory of God’s revelation of himself to the world.  The trajectory that moves from God’s enthronement of David in Zion to the ends of the earth is the trajectory of rule, of God’s kingdom coming in all creation.”  (27)


“Genesis 10-11 sets, as it were, the international scene for the whole of the rest of the Bible’s story.”  (28)


Blessing is the key word in God’s promises to Abraham.  “The blessing of the nations begins – or at least is foreshadowed – when Jacob brings blessing to Laban (Gen 30:27) and Joseph to Potiphar (39:5).”  But in the rest of the Old Testament the blessing remains a promise and largely out of view (Psalm 72;17; Isaiah 19:24-25; Jeremiah 4:2; Zechariah 8:13).  (30)


God singles out the Messiah, who is not only for Jews but also for Gentiles.  “He is the descendant of Abraham through whom God’s blessing will at last reach the nations.”  (33)


“Blessing is God’s provision for human flourishing.  But it is also relational: to be blessed by God is not only to know God’s good gifts but to know God himself in his generous giving.”  “…blessing is a movement that goes out from God and returns to him.” (34) 


Salvation is the fulfillment of God’s good purposes for his creation, in spite of the damage evil does to God’s creation.  (35)


The book of Exodus singles out Israel.  “However, this very singularity of Israel is itself a witness to the nations.  In his mighty acts of salvation for his own people God makes himself known to the other nations.”  “…his acts on his people’s behalf make him known at the same time as the one true God of all the earth, whom the nations themselves must also acknowledge.” (37)


“This trajectory is fundamentally about the knowledge of who God is, YHWH’s demonstration of his deity to the nations.” To make his name renowned through all the earth.  God desires to be known to be God.  “The good of God’s human creatures requires that he be known to them as God.  There is no vanity, only revelation of truth, in God’s demonstrating of his deity to the nations.”   YHWH makes himself known as the Saviour of Israel who can also save all who turn to him.” (37, 39) 


God also singled out one place, Mt. Zion and one person David and his descendants as rulers in Jerusalem.  (41-2)


“God’s purpose always begins with such singling out but never ends there.”  “God’s purpose in each of these singular choices was universal: that the blessing of Abraham might overflow to all the families of the earth, that God’s self-revelation to Israel might make God known to all the nations, that from Zion his rule might extend to the ends of the earth.”  “These three major trends of the biblical story are what make the church’s mission intelligible as a necessary and coherent part of the whole biblical metanarrative.  They establish the movement from the particular to the universal that the church is called in its mission to embody I a particular form.  They establish the purpose of God for the world that, again, the church is called to serve in mission to the world.” (46-7)


“Mission is a sending from the one human person Jesus Christ into all the world as his witnesses.” (10)


 “God always singles out some for the sake of all.” (47)


“The seventy nations of Genesis 10 are the known world from Israel’s perspective in the Old Testament period (56).”  Thus they represent all nations on earth. (59)


“Israel is called to be faithful to her covenant with YHWH, not for the sake of superiority, but in order to model this covenant relationship as an invitation to others.” (67)


“It is the particular human person Jesus, crucified and exalted, who draws all people and to whom all people are drawn.  As always in Scripture, universality is not despite but by way of particularity.” (79)


“Mission takes place between the highly particular history of Jesus and the universal goal of God’s coming kingdom.” (84)


The Bible claims to be a universal history.  A metanarrative is a single story about the whole of human history in order to attribute a single integrated meaning to the whole.  It is a totalizing framework, one which tries to subsume everything within its concept of the truth. (86-7)


Postmodernism rejects all metanarratives because “as attempts to universalize one’s own values or culture, they are necessarily authoritarian or oppressive.  They can subsume difference only by suppressing it.”  Postmodernism opts for “particularity, diversity, localism, relativism.”  It espouses heterogeneity and rejects universalism and unity.  (88)


The biblical story is a narrative movement from particularity to universality.  (89)  How do we address the critique this invites from a postmodern critic?  Does the biblical narrative have anything which essentially distinguishes it from totalization or authoritarian oppression? 


The biblical story is decidedly not one of human mastery.  On the contrary “it views history in terms of the freedom and purpose of God and of human freedom to obey or to resist God.”  (91)  Missions is not imposing predetermined patterns on to history, but openness to the incalculable ways of God in history. (92) 


The Bible does not have a carefully plotted single storyline but a “sprawling collection of narratives along with much non-narrative material….”  (92)  “The Bible does, in some sense, tell an overall story that encompasses all its other contents, but this story is not a sort of straitjacket that reduces all else to a narrowly defined conformity.”  It includes considerable diversity, tensions, challenges, and even seeming contradictions of its own claims.  (93)


“Globalization as an ideology has grown out of the older idea of progress but differs in that it reduces progress to economic growth, which is supposed to bring all other good in its train.  We can quite appropriately call it a metanarrative because it entails a worldview, a notion of the human good (the American consumerist dream of wealth and glamour), and because it tells a story in which the universal dominance of unfettered capitalism is both irresistible and beneficent.  It is also readily susceptible to the postmodern critique of metanarratives as ways of legitimating oppression.” (94-5)


In the end Christians must simply contest the preference for diversity over truth.  It is not the case that every kind of diversity is always good.  “What is important is, firstly, that claims to universal truth should not be advanced as settled and closed.  And secondly that assent to any claims to truth may not be coerced.  “Coercion contradicts the nature of truth.  It opens the door to the distortion of truth into a vehicle of the will to power.”  “It is in the very nature of Christian truth that it cannot be enforced.  Coerce belief and you destroy belief….” (98-9)


“The biblical metanarrative itself took shape partly in opposition to the globalizing powers of its day.”  “The biblical metanarrative is rarely portrayed as the dominant metanarrative in its world.  Much more often it is up against the dominant narratives of the great empires from Pharaoh to Rome, all of whom told grand narratives of their divine right to rule.” (103)


The visions in Isaiah, Daniel, and Revelation “do not suggest that the kingdom of God is merely a more powerful or more successful version of the imperial powers.  Their witness is to an altogether different kind of rule.” (104)


Jesus projects a narrative of witness, not coercive power. (107)


“God’s economy entails its own style of globalization, oriented to the coming of his Messiah King.  The question, then, is not whether Christians should be for or against globalization.  Instead, the question is, ‘What kind of globalization should we be supporting?’” (111, quoting Bob Goudzwaard)


“The Christian church is both an international movement and also essentially rooted in localities.” (111)  “It cannot authentically exist as an imposition on others but only as people gladly make it their own.” (112)